Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gadflies and Kooks

Those of us who cover municipal government always struggle with what to do with the gadflies and kooks who haunt city halls.

For the most part, they are as aggravating to reporters as they are to the civic leaders who must indulge them as they are forced to allow the gadflies and kooks spew inanities during the public hearing portions of council or board meetings. We are aggravated because we are on deadline and the gadflies and kooks waste our time.

Several weeks ago a video of a gadfly at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting went viral after The Huffington Post and others posted her rambling rant on the Web. Her blathering was surreal, but it was no worse than what elected officials and reporters are forced to endure at any given council meeting everywhere in Monterey County.

Unfortunately, there exists a subculture of weirdos with nothing better to do with their time than to show up at each and every public meeting to whine, complain, moan and holler about the stupid things the civic leaders are trying to do. Healthy criticism and effective activism are great democratic tools, but the kooks and gadflies generally have nothing credible to say and they certainly have no valid solution to anything. They simply show up and let their jaws flap for three minutes.

Several years ago, the California legislature enacted what can best be described as the Equal Opportunity for Kooks and Gadflies Act, which mandates that all bodies of elected officials must allow time for random people to speak at public meetings. The idea is that the average citizen with valid issues can approach a board or a council to apprise the elected body of the issue.

Because of this legislation, a parade of gadflies and kooks are allowed to waste a whole lot of time during meetings to vent their spleens.

Unfortunately, the inhuman nature of the gadflies and kooks serves to undermine the intentions of the valid and well-meaning citizens who come to elected bodies with valid issues.

Here's how it typically works:

The valid citizen arrives at a city council meeting with an issue he or she believes the council needs to address. The valid citizen works hard to present the issue, to condense the problem in an effective three-minute presentation that will impress the council and force a resolution. The valid citizen is credible and articulate.

But when the valid citizen completes the presentation, the kooks and gadflies descend. They tell the valid citizen that he or she has a great issue. They tell the valid citizen that they can help resolve the problem because they have been coming to council meetings for years and they know their way around city hall.

The valid citizen, who is well intentioned but rather naive in the workings of kooks and gadflies, will be grateful that other people care about his or her issue. So the valid citizen will allow the kooks and gadflies to get involved -- until he or she starts working with these people and recognizes that he or she has thrown in with the nutty fringe, at which point the valid citizen backs away from the issue altogether. And the problem never gets resolved.

I've watched this unfortunate dynamic play out countless times in the decades I've covered local government.

But I've never seen it undo a mayor, until now.

1 comment:

  1. The Harold employs its own liars and kooks that "report" all kind of drivel in attempt to defame, embarrass, and politically "extort" citizens and elected officials.

    What Dilworth did was despicable, but some members of the Harold staff are just as loony.